|Martin Luther King, Jr.|
In mid-January Americans take a day off to celebrate the life and accomplishments of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the most acclaimed Civil Rights leader of the 20th century. How did he rise to such a place of prominence, however? It all began 60 years ago in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. In his book, Stride Toward Freedom, King recalled:
One day after finishing school, I was called to a little church, down in Montgomery, Alabama. And I started preaching there. Things were going well in that church, it was a marvelous experience. But one day a year later, a lady by the name of Rosa Parks decided that she wasn’t going to take it any longer. . . . It was the beginning of a movement.In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Brown vs. The Board of Education that public school segregation was unconstitutional. Blacks throughout the South anticipated a new day as the legally recognized equals of whites. It quickly became obvious, however, that segregation still needed to be challenged on other levels.
“You all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats,” the driver commanded.
With the rolling of eyes and shuffling of feet, three blacks abandoned their seats, not wanting any trouble. Only Rosa Parks sat still. The driver threatened to have her arrested, and she answered calmly, “Go ahead, you may do that.”
|Rosa Parks is arrested|
In response to her bravery, Montgomery’s black clergy took immediate action. Led by Dexter Avenue Baptist Church’s new pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr., a strike against the bus company was announced on December 5 under the auspices of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Parks commented in her 1992 book, ‘‘The advantage of having Dr. King as president was that he was so new to Montgomery and to civil rights work that he hadn’t been there long enough to make any strong friends or enemies.’’ (Parks and Haskins, Rosa Parks) At first, the organization called for a modest change in the situation, that blacks and whites be seated on a “first come, first served” basis, with blacks filling the back of the buses first. They also requested that the bus company hire black drivers and treat passengers of color courteously. The owners refused to budge.
|Year of the Bus Boycott|
During that next harrowing year in Montgomery, ridership on the buses went down by roughly 90% as blacks stayed off the nearly empty vehicles, crippling the white-owned company financially. Blacks paid a high price as well. The Ku Klux Klan bombed King’s house, after which he told a crowd that gathered, ‘‘Be calm as I and my family are. We are not hurt and remember that if anything happens to me, there will be others to take my place.’’ In addition, black motorists, particularly in carpools, faced ongoing harassment for the most trivial—and fabricated—traffic violations. Black women who worked as domestic servants walked hundreds of miles that year to their work and back because of their firm conviction that segregation must end for themselves and future generations. Both Rosa Parks and her husband Raymond lost their jobs because of their involvement in the boycott.
|The community drew together|
|The strike comes to an end|
Do you have any personal connection to this event or the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s?